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3 ways to avoid becoming a consumer victim during Black Friday shopping

It seems like such a good idea: spend a few hours on a day you’d otherwise just be sitting around in a turkey-induced stupor to knock out your holiday shopping at a fraction of what you’d normally pay.

Yes, Black Friday [3] is billed as one of the biggest shopping days of the year, and has a reputation as the time to get the best deals on toys, clothes, electronics and everything else on your holiday shopping list.

But is Black Friday really such a good time to score deals? How much are you truly saving when you drop everything to try for a doorbuster? One of the problems with Black Friday is that the whole idea of the shopping day is to whip you into a frenzy so that your judgment departs and you spend more than you had planned [4].

1. Watch out for the loss leaders

“Stores draw customers in with discounts on big ticket items like plasma televisions,” says Michelle Madhok, shopping expert and author of Wear this Now: Your Style Solution for Every Season and Any Occasion.

These deals are referred to as “loss leaders.” Stores use doorbusters and other pricing tricks to raise excitement in shoppers. These items are often sold at a loss to the store, but their purpose is to get you in the door.

“Once you are there,” Madhok says, “you are more likely to buy as much as you can off your list.”

Stores offering great deals on Black Friday shopping are hoping that you’ll stick around and buy other items with wider profit margins — and that you’ll be tempted to pay full price on some purchases just because you’re already there!

Doorbusters and other loss leaders may not be a true value, however. Often, the items offered for such great prices are of lower quality than their counterparts. Additionally, there might be a limited supply. If you aren’t one of the first through the door, you might miss out. If you are desperate to get the item, you might sacrifice sleep, family time [5], or even other (better) deals, just to wait in line for eight hours or more so you can be sure to land a doorbuster.

2. Use price comparison apps

“When you’re in the store shopping, utilize your smart phone [6],” says Madhok. “Apps from Amazon.com or PriceGrabber allow you to scan your items and compare prices.”

You might discover that you can get the item cheaper online, or in another store. But that doesn’t mean you have to go home or drive to yet another store to get the same deal. “If the item is being offered for a lower price in another store, talk with a sales associate,” Madhok suggests. “Many stores will do a price match.”

3. Record prices and look for refunds later

Last year, The Wall Street Journal looked at data from six years’ worth of prices [7], and found that it’s possible to find better deals on many popular items at various points throughout the year. Turns out you might not even truly get the best deals by shopping on Black Friday.

Instead, you can use price tracking apps like PricePinx that will help you see pricing cycles and alert you to price drops.

Another possibility is to record your current purchase and watch for price drops later. “As soon as you get a receipt, take a photo of it and upload it to a site like SkyDrive.com or Evernote.com,” says Madhok. “If the price comes down after Black Friday, you can request a price adjustment. Many stores will honor the discount.”

You can also check your credit card perks [8] to see if there is price protection. Shop with a card that offers price protection and your issuer will reimburse you if the price comes down later.

What are your tips for avoiding spending too much on Black Friday?

(Photo: Flickr user tshein)